I was inspired to think about this by the sculpture of Damien Hirst of a skull inset with an entire surface of diamonds. Hirst is a very successful and very controversial artist who does extremely well in his contributions to an area of art which I consider to be more in the area of the outrageous than aesthetic. Hirst’s earlier pieces were a cow’s head being eaten by maggots, a huge shark preserved in a vitrine containing formaldehyde, and a cow and calf presented in butchered pieces displayed separately. Not only were these frightfully shocking, but also quite successful since Hirst sold them for huge sums to wealthy collectors. Nevertheless, whatever their aesthetic impact, it would be a mistake to dismiss them as artistically valueless.
Shock can have impact in other areas such as films wherein the audience is captivated by fear in a film like “Alien”. The celebrated scene outstanding for its horror was the emergence of an alien monster from the stomach of a victim who had nurtured its gestation after the egg had been forcibly implanted into his mouth. This is usually compared to the actual implantation of an egg by a wasp into a caterpillar which is a common insect phenomenon but there may be subconscious echoes involved with the mammalian sexual practices of creating a child which remains a parasite on its mother until it is born and occasionally must be removed by a caesarian procedure which can be dangerous and life threatening to both mother and child.
I cannot say what impulses were involved in Hirst’s agenda to create the diamond skull, but it impressed me as a wonderful symbol with high aesthetic value of humanity at this moment in history. The skull itself is a universal symbol of death and diamonds in current times have become symbolic of hugely crystalized wealth. The agendas of the modern world economically, politically, and even morally, to a large extent, have, as their envelope of intent, the fierce pursuit of wealth through the flaying of the entire world with misery and death in all the variations that can be managed. In the most wry form of hypocrisy they wrap it in the propagandistic idiocies of liberty and justice, but any slightly educated glance by someone educated in the history of humanity for thousands of years is well aware that the fundamentals of power and greed are in high gear.
The two massive threats to the existent continuation of civilization and life itself on this planet are nuclear war and the radical climate changes clearly indicated by meteorological sources. Both of these driving forces were born out of the immense success of scientific atomic theory and a fundamental understanding of the relationship of matter to energy. Again, the climate change is due to civilizations ingenuity in discovering and utilizing basic energy potentials for manufacturing, habitation of terrestrial areas not easily accommodatable to humans, transportation and information and major ecological changes for food production. All major successes for a population explosion unmatched in any histories. All of these changes powerfully contributed to the real wealth of humanity. But the peculiarity of the distillation of that wealth into financial terms which determined social power was the stinger that converted the real wealths of food and habitation and ecological control into deadly threats for the entire planet. Money itself has no value at all outside of its social control. At best, paper money can be burnt for its heating value but a one dollar bill is equal to a thousand dollar bill on that scale.
Nevertheless, because of its social value, society has substituted financial value for the value of those things which living things require to exist. This is the prime deadly force, wherein death is cloaked in diamonds, destroying all basic decency and good sense. Whatever intelligence might remain within the massive powers of government and business that dispatches brutality and corruption and the most destructive forces within human control, to obliterate all possibility of life on this planet to exist for even those in control, it is obviously completely insane.